News & Media Coverage

Religious Leaders Join in Fight Against Addiction

April 13, 2014  |  The Boston Globe  |  Link to article

By Johanna Seltz

Religious leaders south of Boston are tackling the issue of opiate addiction head-on, saying it’s their responsibility to be their troubled brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and to offer hope.

“We’re reclaiming an authority that only a religious community can claim,” said the Rev. Grant Barber of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scituate, who helped the Scituate Clergy Association organize a townwide “Day of Hope” recently.

The Greater Taunton Clergy Association held a similar vigil the same weekend at a local Baptist church, and Brockton-area congregations have been working all year to raise awareness of the opiate crisis and lobbying for solutions at the state level.

Governor Deval Patrick last month declared the “opiate epidemic” a public health emergency, and used his emergency powers to make Narcan – the brand name for a drug that combats opiate overdoses – available immediately to all first responders in the state.

Scituate’s daylong event on March 30 began with sermons in individual houses of worship and ended with a vigil that filled the bleachers of the Gates Middle School gym. Recovering addicts spoke, as did the mother of a 22-year-old Scituate man who she said committed suicide in January out of despair over his heroin habit.

The purpose, Barber said, was to raise awareness of the public health crisis and provide information about available resources, but also to offer comfort to families dealing with addiction, which sometimes can be “as simple as a prayer.”

The immediate impetus for action, he said, was the overdose deaths in 2014 of two Scituate residents – a 22-year-old man and 31-year-old mother of five young children.

“That kind of rocked the town,” Barber said. “People were saying enough is enough,” and they asked the clergy to do something.

“I know the Northeast in general has replaced the Northwest as the least religiously observant part of the country, but here in Scituate, churches play a more significant role in people’s lives. And I totally, passionately believe that the faith I have has to leave the walls of the church and be in the world.”

Addiction “has touched every one of our neighbors, and many of us here have shed tears over lost lives,” the Rev. Leo Christian of First Baptist Scituate told the crowd. “But two powerful forces are in this room tonight. The first is the power of community: As a community, we’ve said this is enough, we’re done, and we’re going to make a difference.

“The next is the power of faith,” Christian said. For addicts, “there is hope. We’re going to take people out of the shadows and offer them hope.”

Meaghann Perry, a 41-year-old former addict from Scituate, moved the crowd to tears when she talked about growing up with “big dreams and lots of opportunities,” falling to addiction, and fighting to get her life back in order. The stigma of addiction made the struggle even harder, she said.

“Addiction is a desperately lonely disease,” she said. “It’s a disease that makes us feel isolated, unwanted, unworthy, and unlovable. The antidote? Hope, and faith and love and acceptance.

“There are thousands of us in recovery, in our own communities,” she added. “Let’s extend our love and hope to the addicts still out there suffering, and their families, and let them know that we care, that we see them, that we want them back.”

In Brockton, the 15 congregations of the Brockton Interfaith Community have made opiate addiction a priority issue, according to spokeswoman Julie Aronowitz. “We totally are taking it on,” she said.

The approach includes lobbying for a drug court in Brockton, where some addicts who commit crime would get help kicking their habits instead of jail time. The religious leaders also are working together to help families dealing with addiction, she said.

The Rev. Joe Raeke, pastor of the Tri-Parish Community of Edith Stein, Christ the King, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Brockton, is involved with both efforts. He’s motivated, he said, by the large numbers in the community who are suffering from the effects of the opiate crisis.

“It’s a very sad reality that in all of our churches, we’re burying people — and not just young people,” Raeke said. “And people are losing their homes because they’re focused on their addictions and they’re not focused on paying their bills.

“I’ve come to recognize this is something that doesn’t play favorites,” he said. “There’s not a certain type of family that gets affected. It’s all kinds of families — our whole community — so we all need to do our parts to stop this. It really is a matter of everyone has a right to be treated with dignity, and for those who can’t do that for themselves, we have to do it for them.”

The Brockton Interfaith Community hosted a community meeting last fall to showcase all of the resources available to addicts and their families, Raeke said.

More than 100 people attended the session, which also highlighted the connection between drug addiction, crime, and incarceration, he said.

As part of the continuing education effort, the religious coalition is showing the film “Anonymous People,” a documentary about people in recovery, on April 30 at 7 p.m. in the Our Lady of Lourdes church hall., 439 West St., Brockton.